Friday, July 14, 2017

Ensenada wins both Liga Norte halves, playoffs open Saturday

Jermy Acey, interviewed by actor Branscombe Richmond
The Ensenada Marineros parlayed a four-run eighth inning into an 8-5 comeback win over Puerto Penasco Thursday night to clinch the North Mexico League's second-half championship with a 25-17 record, one game ahead of the 24-18 San Quintin Freseros.  Alberto Querales went 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs for the Marineros while Miguel Rodriguez slashed a two-run double in the decisive eighth, giving the home team a final season record of 52-31 and winning both halves to collect 16 total points toward playoff seeding.  Defending champion San Quintin (48-36) finished second in both halves to come in at 14 playoff points.  San Luis (40-43) came in third with 10.5 points and Puerto Penasco (41-43) rounds out the playoff field as the Tiburones picked up 11.5 points.  Caborca (37-45) and Mexicali (31-51) will both miss the postseason.

The Liga Norte is considered as Class AA within Mexico's pro baseball structure, with each of the circuit's six franchises sharing affiliations with two Mexican League teams.  The LNM is one of two AA leagues in the Mexican system; the other plays at the Mexican League Academy campus near Monterrey.  Ensenada is a farm team for the Mexico City and Oaxaca that (unlike their all-Mexican LMB parent clubs) has ten non-Mexican players on their 29-man roster, including San Diego-born infielder Nick Guerra, considered "nationals" via his Mexican-American status.  Guerra hit .250 in 25 games for the Marineros.

A minor league veteran outfielder from Texas had a banner year at the plate in the LNM this summer. Puerto Penasco outfielder Jermy Acey, a former Blue Jays farmhand who's played independent ball since 2006, led the Liga Norte in batting with a .358 average and 106 hits, finished third in RBIs (63) and tied for sixth in homers (10).   San Quintin's Marcos Veccionacci's 17 roundtrippers were tops in the loop while Edgar Duran of Ensenada led in RBIs with 77.  Vecchionacci had an MVP-type year for the Freseros, finishing third in the batting derby at .344 and coming in second to Duran (81) with 72 runs scored.  Duran was another standout, hitting .334 (sixth in the Liga Norte batting derby) and coming in second with 16 homers.

There are several LNM Pitcher of the Year candidates for 2017.  Elian Leyva of Puerto Penasco went 11-1 to lead the circuit in wins, followed by the 10 victories of Ensenada's Wanel Vasquez.  The latter registered 92 strikeouts to tie San Quintin starter Yeiper de Jesus Castillo and matched San Luis' Daniel Bloch for fourth on the ERA table at 3.66.  Leyva was also first with a 1.18 WHIP, finished third in ERA with a 3.34 mark (Ensenada's Alexis Lara was first at 2.92) and fourth in strikeouts with 78 ponches.  Ensenada closer Rafael Cova's 20 saves topped the chart, followed by Caborca's Loiger Luis Padron's 15.  Cova had a 1.87 ERA with 40 strikeouts over 33.2 innings.

The Liga Norte held its All-Star Weekend at Puerto Penasco, culminating with a June 10 Sonora win over Baja California by a 3-1 score.  Cuban Lazaro Leal of San Luis was named Game MVP.  Before the All-Star contest, Leal's Algodoneros teammate, Juan Carlos Torres, won the Home Run Derby.

The Liga Norte playoffs will open Saturday with a pair of semifinal games.  Top-seed Ensenada will host #4 Puerto Penasco while second-ranked (and 2016 titlist) San Quintin hosts San Luis.  The winners of the best-of-seven series will collide in the North Mexico League's Championship Series in another set scheduled for seven games, starting July 25.